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So once again I am not writing a diary about Razorbills but hopefully still of interest.  The week before last was a brief respite between semesters and we took a short vacation to points north and east.  Our first stop was Cumberland Island National Seashore.  Cumberland Island is the southernmost of Georgia's barrier islands.  I have diaried a previous visit here almost exactly two and half years ago.

Just like Georgia's Golden Isles immediately to the north, Cumberland Island was a playground/retreat for the affluent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  At one time most of the island was owned by the junior branch of the Carnegie family.  The original Carnegie mansion, Dungeness, burned in the 1950s after sitting empty for several decades.  Other mansions, built for the children when they grew up remain intact elsewhere on the island.

Ruins of Dengeness Mansion
Ruins of Dungeness Mansion

But our main interest is the island's natural habitats.  Like other coastal regions of the southeast, protected areas are often salt marsh.  The photo below also shows the feral horses for which the island is known.

Wild horses and Salt March
Our focus is on the outer coast, the beach which is the last bit of North America before you get to the Atlantic Ocean.  There had been heavy rain and storms shortly before our arrival.  This meant that the beach was pounded flat and hard.  The walking was exceptionally easy.  It also meant that there was a lot of interesting sea life washed ashore (look for a Daily Bucket in the near future).
Beach Scene
But very few birds.  Almost no shorebirds at all and very few gulls and terns.  We wondered if many of them had fled the area when the storms moved in.

Here is what we did see.

This one group of Royal Terns (a handful of Forster's in the mix as well) was loafing about.  It is pretty common to see Terns resting on the beach in groups.  Normally they aren't doing much.  But spring was in the air and a young tern's thoughts turn to love.  And what better way to express your feelings than with a fish!

Royal Terns
Royal Terns
Royal Terns
Royal Terns
Not all the terns were impressed with the fish.  Some looked decidedly bored.
Royal Terns
But at least one was impressed enough to allow the intrepid fisher to take advantage of her.

Below are a couple of pictures from two days later on Jekyll Island immediately to the north.  Same sort of scandalous behavior going on!

Royal Terns
Royal Terns
But turning away from this licentious spectacle we continued up the beach.

A short way past the terns we saw a group of dark birds out in the water.  

Black Scoter at a distance
Eventually we spotted three others closer in, swimming right in where the waves were breaking.  It was difficult to get a good look but eventually I was able to tentatively ID them as female Black Scoters.

We moved up to the very back of the beach, at the base of the dunes, to have lunch.  While up there we noticed that the three scoters had actually moved up onto the beach, right where the waves were breaking.  I had never seen ducks on a beach before and I intended to take a picture or two right after lunch.  

Then an eagle flew by and when I looked again, the ducks were (understandably) gone.

Moving a bit further along we saw two large dark birds on the beach, off in the distance.

Moving closer we discovered they were a turkey vulture and a juvenile bald eagle.

Eagle and turkey vulture
The eagle was eating something and the vulture was biding its time.
Eagle and vulture
Gradually the vulture moved closer.  So did we, although we moved way up on the beach so that we wouldn't get too close.
Eagle and vulture
Eagle and vulture
Eagle and prey
In this super crop of the image you can see a webbed foot.  Given the dark body I'm wondering if the eagle had caught one of the scoters.
Eagle and vulture
The vulture was quite bold and the eagle seemed nervous.  Despite our efforts to remain at a safe distance it eventually took flight.
Juvenile Eagle in flight
And the vulture moved it to take its turn.  We moved way down the beach but the eagle never came back.
Turkey Vulture
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